Rights groups denounce Mali for releasing jailed Islamist

Malian soldiers patrol in the streets of Timbuktu on February 1, 2013 as French-led troops work to secure the last Islamist stronghold in the north (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

Bamako (AFP) - Campaigners condemned Mali on Monday over the release of a judge accused of being a key figure in the brutal 2012 Islamist occupation of the country's northern desert.

Houka Houka Ag Alfousseyni sat in the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu during the occupation, where he was said to have been involved in "grave human rights violations".

He was released on August 15 as part of negotiations between the government and Islamist and separatist rebels, according to a statement from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Malian Association of Human Rights (AMDH).

The organisations said in a joint statement they "vehemently condemn" the release of Houka, who was arrested in January in the Timbuktu region and was in custody, awaiting trial.

"This release is an attack on the independence of the justice system and a gross violation of the rights of victims to justice and truth," AMDH president Moctar Mariko said in the statement.

The government and armed groups in the north exchanged 86 prisoners in July as part of ongoing peace negotiations.

FIDH and AMDH said the inmates included "42 members of armed groups accused of grave human rights violations and charged by the Malian courts".

"We liberated people in the context of national reconciliation. We do not want to go into details," a Malian justice ministry official told AFP.

Several Islamist militias linked to Al-Qaeda occupied Gao, Timbuktu and northern Mali's other towns and cities for nine months in 2012.

The groups exacted a brutal version of Islamic sharia characterised by amputations, beatings and executions before they were ousted by a French-led military intervention launched in January 2013.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting